Jaya House Goes Above and Beyond for Journeys Within Guests

Jaya House making a donation to the Landmine Museum

By Jay Austin

Since the official opening of Jaya House River Park in November 2016 we have watched this boutique 5 star property quickly escalate to the Number 1 property on Trip Advisor for Siem Reap. Journeys Within has a long-standing relationship with Jaya House General Manager, Christian Do Boer, who heads up the sensational team at this property and is the inspiration for many social and environmental initiatives the property participates in. Being a new hotel, there are always a few small kinks to work out on the operational side of things and Jaya House River Park has been no different in this sense, but it was when we received a recent request from a Journeys Within guest that the team at Jaya House really showed us how they go above and beyond…

We received a request from a family of 5 who had older children and were looking for a twin room with the facility to add an extra bed and inter-connect to a double room. This was one of these starting out ‘kinks’ as we realized that the interconnecting twin room did not have the space to facilitate adding an extra bed. Where most hotels would have denied the booking, or simply told us that the booking was not feasible, Jaya House showed their true colors. Enter Hotel Manager Kol Koy.

Kol has a long history of working in some of Siem Reap’s finest hotels and is truly a master in the art of providing exceptional customer service. Where other hotel managers would not have become involved in the situation, Kol met with his Engineering Team to see how they could best service our request. As a result, Kol, together with his Engineering Team completely transformed one of their connecting twin rooms by removing beds from their permanently concreted bases in order to accommodate a third single. He tried using a standard rollaway bed, but quickly concluded that the comfort level was simply not to the Jaya House standard. This resulted in the property purchasing a brand new, Jaya House quality single bed in order to accommodate our request!

The Jaya House Team installing the new bed for a Journeys Within guest
The Jaya House team standing by the completed task

The beauty of Journeys Within having an active office ‘on the ground’ in Cambodia enables us to facilitate these exceptional relationships with our suppliers who constantly go above and beyond to take care of our guests. The team at the Journeys Within Cambodia office cannot speak highly enough of the team at Jaya House who do everything they can to ensure our guests are not only comfortable, but surprised and delighted during their stay at the property. This is evident from the recent comments from guests in their feedback to us:

“We loved every minute! They are brand new and working out some kinks, but bent over backwards to please and accommodate our every need. We could have stayed forever.”

“This hotel was amazing! The food was great, the service was incredible. They made a card and a bouquet of flowers for our son who was sick, and sent up Coconuts every few hours.”

Jaya House making a donation to Small Arts Schools

It is a pleasure to work with a property who cares as much for our guests as we do and Jaya House River Park fits this bill to a tee! They also have some wonderful community and sustainability initiatives at the property that align nicely with the Journeys Within ethos on responsible tourism. Jaya House River Park is attempting to be Siem Reap’s first plastic-free hotel by being a main partner of the RefillNotLandfill campaign; 5% of their profits are donated to local charities and organizations including The Cambodian Landmine Museum, Small Art School, Music & Art School of Siem Reap and the Green Gecko Project and they are also active participants in the Ten Thousand Trees Project and a leader in regular Siem Reap Clean Up activities.

This is a hotel that is making extremely valid attempts in the community and environment around them and an organization that we are proud to partner with. Be sure to include Jaya House River Park in your next Siem Reap itinerary to give yourself a truly exceptional experience.

Jaya House Manager Kol Koy making a donation to Green Gecko

Returning Veteran Tours

Journeys Within guest and returning veteran, Dave, with Mr. Nam, a Vietnamese Veteran

We often work with returning veterans heading back to Vietnam to revisit the areas where they served and to see Vietnam as it is today, along with their families.  These tours are very meaningful to us and each is tailored to specific experiences, needs and desires of each veteran.  For those who are interested, we often incorporate meetings with Vietnamese veterans in the spirit of reconciliation and healing.  Our returning veterans always give us very positive feedback and we are proud to offer 10% discounts to all active duty and retired members of the armed forces.

Southern Vietnam Director Khoa with Journeys Within guest and returning veteran, Marc

Here is an example one of our favorite returning veteran tours that we put together this spring for a guest who had served in Central Vietnam:

01 May 17   Hoi An: Arrival

Arrive on your flight – Cathay Dragon CX 5224 departing Hong Kong at 17:30 and arriving in Danang at 18:20. (guest booked flight)  Your guide will meet you at Danang Airport for your private transfer of about 45 minutes to your hotel in Hoi An for check in.

Please note: May 1st is a National Holiday in Vietnam so their airports may be particularly crowded on this day.

Meals Included: None

Overnight at Little Hoi An Central Boutique Hotel – 1 Double Grand Deluxe Room

02 May 17   Hoi An: Wander the Ancient Town

Your guide, Hieu, will meet you at your hotel at 8am and together you will head out on a walking tour of Hoi An for a few hours. Visit the Ancient Town, which is home to the beautiful Chua Cau, (roofed bridge), as well as Hoi Quan, the ancient meeting places, some ancestral family homes and some of the lovely hidden pagodas. Time permitting, you have the option to head outside the Ancient Town and learn more about the Hoi An of today. In the spirit of tradition, you’ll also have the chance to enjoy the famous cuisine of Central Vietnam in a local restaurant in the old part of town. You have up to 4 hours to explore with your guide today.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner (Discuss today’s schedule with your guide.)

Overnight at Little Hoi An Central Boutique Hotel – 1 Double Grand Deluxe Room

03 May 17   Hoi An to Tam Ky and Chu Lai: Military Historical Customized Tour – Day 1

Your guide, Hieu, will meet you at your hotel reception at 8am. We will have a “then and now” file prepared for you to refer to together as you make your trip down memory lane over the next few days. Your days are at your pace and your experience will depend on the locations you choose to visit and the people you will interact with along the way.  Some of the times in transport may be longer than we would normally prefer, and so please feel welcome to request your guide for additional stops whenever you need them, and we will also have cushions in your road transport for added comfort.

We recommend that you will visit the Tam Ky area first before making your way Chu Lai and then to Tam Hoa Dock for your speedboat to your resort for check-in. Your road journey today south from Hoi An to Tam Ky will take around 2 hours, with an additional hour’s drive from Tam Ky to Chu Lai, your furthest point southwards.

Hieu will discuss plans with you in advance for your first military historical day highlights in Tam Ky and Chu Lai.  Options include: Chu Lai Airport, the Martyr Cemetery (for Vietnamese guerilla soldiers), Ky Anh Tunnels (completed around 1967 for moving medical supplies and rescue assistance for the guerilla resistance), Tam Ky City, and Chu Lai Airfield (All that remains is a landscape of bomb craters and airstrips, although in the far distance you can still make out some old airplane hangars to the east of the airstrip). Chu Lai Airfield is located south of Highway 1 near the city of Tam Ky and was of critical importance during the Vietnam War for the American military for reconnaissance and security missions. Chu Lai was not a Vietnamese town, as many thought. It was named after the Marine general officer Krulak’s Chinese Mandarin pronunciation of his initials. Approval to build Chu Lai was worked out in March-April 1965 by Defense Secretary McNamara. Chu Lai was an important base for the American Army, Navy and Air Force during the war, and one which was heavily bombed by the North Vietnamese towards the end of the war.   Uncle Ba Lai would also like to welcome you both to his home to join him for a drink and discuss the past, present and future (he joined the guerilla resistance when he was 17).

Although not related to the war, you may also be interested in visiting: Nuoc Mam Fish Sauce Factory, Khong Mieu (Confuscism Temple), Caodaism Temple, Bich Hoa Village (a former fishing village turned art village), and Khuong My Champa Temple.

Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, snacks en-route

Overnight at Le Domaine De Tam Hai Resort – 1 Double Villa

04 May 17   Tam Ky: Military Historical Customized Tour – Day 2

Meet your guide, Hieu, in your resort reception area at your agreed time. Today will be a big day as you will visit Fire Support Bases and Landing Zones LZ Baldy and LZ Ross, which were based along route 611, and performed daily clearing and securing of route 535 from ambush and mines with the aim to enable the movement of supplies and personnel along the route.  LZ Ross was also a refueling point between LZ Baldy and the Hiep Duc area.  In 1965, the Killer Kane operation in Hiep Duc valley saw a high proportion of “radio men” lose their lives. Often anyone near an antenna was shot by NVA snipers. Following the operation, the valley earned the nickname “Antenna Valley” in honor of the casualties. Antenna Valley runs from the Thu Bon River to the Que Son Pass. Hiep Duc Valley connects with Que Son Valley. The area was a free fire zone and reconnaissance in the area brought in artillery or air-strikes as needed to secure the area from enemy forces. Antenna Valley is also sometimes known as Dragon Valley, and is quite hard to identify today, but take your time to explore with your guide as the main base changed location from time to time during the war between Hiep Duc and Que Son and you may discover more together with local support and your guide Hieu’s interpreting help today.  At LZ Baldy – There is still some existing evidence such as the Vietnam Army Base (former LZ Baldy US base), and you’ll have the chance to visit Provincial Road No.611, Huong An Town (the area around LZ Baldy), Vung Che Bridge, and LZ Ross which is now a strip of low mountains with a large monument to the Cam Doi area to one side.

Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, snacks en-route

Overnight at Le Domaine De Tam Hai Resort – 1 Double Villa

05 May 17   Tam Ky: Military Historical Customized Tour – Day 3

Today you have a guide and driver with you to continue to explore the surrounding region. This day has been built in to revisit places you wanted to spend more time, or to catch places you missed in the previous two days. Discuss with your guide what you would like to do today.

Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, snacks en-route

Overnight at Le Domaine De Tam Hai Resort – 1 Double Villa

06 May 17   Tam Ky to Hoi An: Military Historical Customized Tour – Day 4

Today you will be met by your guide and driver will be transferred back to Hoi An.

Meals included: Breakfast

Overnight at Little Hoi An Central Boutique Hotel – 1 Double Grand Deluxe Room

07 May 17   Hoi An: Departure

Your guide will meet you at your hotel for your private transfer of about 45 minutes to the airport in Danang and will ensure that you arrive in time for your onward flight – Cathay Dragon CX 5221 departing Danang at 09:50 and arriving in Hong Kong at 12:45. (guest booked flight)

Meals included: Breakfast

Tour Rate:           $ 2,480.00 total for two travelers

                                $ 1,240.00 per person based on two people traveling

Journeys Within guest and returning veteran Lewis, with his wife Susan and guide Ms. Nguyen at the West Gate of Dong Du Base

Hotel Review: Marndadee Heritage River Village

By Courtney Ridgel

To begin with, I LOVED the Marndadee Heritage River Village.  Fair enough, this particular property suits my personal tastes, but I feel confident that I will not be alone in appreciating this beautiful hotel.

This property seeks to encompass the feeling of ‘Old Thailand’ so there is a mix of colonial- style buildings and traditional reclaimed wooden houses with tiled roofs.  The property is situated right on the Ping River, so the setting is very peaceful and quiet, and in the spirit of a Thai village, there are small decorative rice paddies on the grounds.  The owners are avid collectors of art, sculptures, and antiques so the property boasts quite a collection displayed throughout the grounds, with unique pieces showcased in each room.  In addition, the original old trees and wells (now filled in and serving as flower pots for ferns) are interspersed between the buildings, as none of them were removed when the hotel was constructed.

In general, this property will be an excellent fit for travelers who are planning to spend more time in the countryside around Chiang Mai, visiting elephants, sightseeing, trekking, etc., and is perfect for those seeking relaxation, a beautiful view and peace and quiet with a romantic nostalgic ‘old-world’ feel.  The Marndadee Heritage River Village can accommodate families, family groups and couples.  The Rice Barn Villas in particular were designed for families, groups of friends or extended families with a three-bedroom option where three separate villas share an outdoor space together in the center, and a private outdoor space to relax beneath each villa.

All that said, this hotel falls in the category of ‘outside of town’.  I’m told that the hotel is normally about a 40 minute drive from the airport but while I was visiting, it took us a bit longer due to Loi Krathong traffic and the bridge along normal route was undergoing repairs which have since been completed.  This property is not particularly well suited for travelers who prefer to be situated at the center of the action in bustling downtown Chiang Mai. Going out to eat frequently may also be problematic, as there isn’t much nearby besides the river, the scenery and the local neighborhoods along the river.  That said, this property does offer a restaurant, spa, pool, fitness room, and free shuttle service to and from downtown Chiang Mai 4 set times a day to keep guests entertained.

Royal Cremation Ceremonies in October 2017

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

By Courtney Ridgel

Thailand has been mourning the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej since last October, and this October (2017), will mark the end of this period of mourning.  The king’s body will be cremated and both official and religious ceremonies are expected to mark the occasion.  The Thai government has officially announced that the ceremonies will take place October 25th -29th, 2017, with the official cremation date on October 26th.

For travelers heading to Thailand in October, this means that the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew and the surrounding areas will likely be closed off to the public.  It is rumored that the Grand Palace may close as early as the 23rd of October in order to make preparations and rehearse for the ceremonies.   The day of cremation (October 26th) will be a public holiday, and many business, museums and attractions will be closed out of respect.  You can find further details about the expected schedule of the cremation ceremonies in this article from the Bangkok Post, and you can see photos from the last Royal funeral, which included an elaborate procession, in this article from the International Business Times.  A procession for the upcoming ceremonies in October is also likely, and so traffic delays can also be expected.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

We will continue to monitor the situation and will keep our guests updated on what to expect, and if necessary will adjust itineraries to work around the closures.   If you plan to travel to Thailand before the end of October, we recommend reading our blog about what to expect when Visiting the Grand Palace during this period of mourning, as there are certain unusual regulations in place for the year.  For example, visitors to the Grand Palace are still expected to dress entirely in ‘mute’ colors – black or dark navy until after the cremation ceremonies in October.

As always, please remember that deep respect should be shown to the King and Royal Family at all times. Showing respect for King is the law (known as the lese majeste laws) and all people within Thailand, including foreigners, are required to abide by this law.  Additionally, the Thai people loved their King and deeply mourn his passing.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel


Other Blog Articles Related to this topic:

King Bhumibol Adulyadej

What to Expect in Thailand Over the Next Month – October 2016

What to expect from Loi Krathong this year – October 2016

Visiting the Grand Palace

Kanchanburi: Riding the Death Railway

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

By Courtney Ridgel

I grew up hearing about WWII from my grandparents, and I studied abroad in France where I had the chance to observe the rusting relics around the beaches of Normandy firsthand.  When the chance came to visit another infamous WWII site, the Death Railway, I felt that I couldn’t pass up the chance – both to pay my respects, and to enjoy another adventure in beautiful Thailand.

Photo by Well

I was joined by the Thailand office team – Nicole, Chris and Joy, along with one of our top guides in Bangkok – Well, and together we met at the hotel for an early-morning start to head out to Kanchanaburi in the Thai countryside.  To my great surprise, our driver for the day had brought his personally outfitted van which would not have been out of place at a bachelorette party, and came with light up etched glass displays with koi fish, bejeweled seats, an impressive sound system and a drop-down TV.  There we were on our way to visit memorials dedicated to a particularly harsh piece of history, riding along in great luxury, compete with coffees from a drive-through Starbucks at Joy’s insistence, and I could not help but see the irony and be grateful for what I have in life (and laugh about the van).

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

For those who are not already aware, the ‘Death Railway’ was constructed during WWII by Allied POWs and forcibly drafted Southeast Asians known as Romusha,  to bring supplies to the front in Burma (now Myanmar).  The difficult terrain, jungle diseases, malnourishment, beatings and around-the-clock work schedule led to the deaths of 12,621 Allied POWs, and thousands of Ramusha (the exact numbers are unknown, and the estimates vary), giving the railroad its name.  Now, the railway serves as a tourist attraction and mode of transportation to some of the small towns in this area.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

As we drove out into the green countryside, our first stop was to visit the main Kanchanaburi War Cemetery in downtown Kanchanburi, where 6,982 fallen POWs from Australia, the UK and the Netherlands are interred.  The cemetery also displays a plaque to commemorate 11 fallen Indian POWS who fought for the British during the war.  (The bodies of fallen American POWs were repatriated after the war.)  Across the street, we visited the small but well-done The Thailand-Burma Railway Centre which houses 8 main galleries which detail the construction of the railway through first-hand accounts, photographs and artifacts.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

After this somber start, we next drove to the train station, at the edge of the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai.  I could not help but notice the vendors who had set up a temporary market selling souvenirs such as soaps carved in the shape of flowers, t-shirts and coconut drinks.   The weather was lovely with beautiful bright sunshine, blue skies and beautiful green vistas along the riverbanks.  Even knowing where we stood, I found it difficult to feel anything but cheerful, and we strolled across the bridge with the other tourists while we waited for the train.

The train itself was a joy – an antique passenger train from another era with uniformed ticket checkers and waiters bringing beverages – and I couldn’t help but picture my grandparents coming along for the ride with me.  I know they would love it as much as I did.  We enjoyed the breeze blowing through our hair and took in the beautiful and peaceful countryside rolling past.

Once we reached the small town of Krasae where we disembarked to visit a large Buddha statue built into a cave in the cliff, and to enjoy lunch at the Krasae Cave Restaurant, looking out over the river.  I also took note of a WWII era bomb which had failed to detonate sitting on a plinth in the middle of town, and it served as a reminder that this lovely place was once a war-zone, and that the allied forces had destroyed as much of the railway as they could to prevent its use in bringing supplies to the front in Burma. After we’d visited the impressive Buddha, had our fortunes revealed through the fortune sticks, stuffed ourselves on a big Thai lunch of salad, noodles, rice, shrimp, chicken and curry, and did some souvenir shopping, we reunited with our driver and bedazzled van.

We drove past green winding green hillsides and small towns until we reached our next stop – the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum, which the Australian government built and maintains through a partnership with the Thai government.  After exploring the museum, we strolled down the path through the bamboo forest until we reached the old railway bed.  The railway here had long since been removed, with only a short section left as a memorial to all those who died here.  The jungle scenery was beautiful but there was a quiet and sad eeriness to the place.  Small Australian flags and mementos had been left behind by comrades, loved ones and relatives, hinting at what this cut in the railway grade used to look like.  Feeling a strange sense of standing in both the 1940’s and in 2016 at the same time, we walked back up the hill to our waiting driver and began the journey back to Bangkok, stopping to purchase pumpkins from a roadside stand and feed fish along the way.  It is a memory that will stay with me – both as a wonderful day with friends, and as a reminder of those who served.

If Kanchanaburi interests you, check out our new two-day Kanchanaburi tour which includes spending time at an elephant sanctuary.